There’s been lots of artisenal chocolate makers popping up in the United States the past couple of years. There has, in my opinion, been a great deficit of them and it’s so rewarding for me to see that many have caught the chocolate making “bug”. These newcomers to the chocolate making scene have helped shape the future of chocolate by adopting progressive practices on how they source, make and sell their products. None of them have gone as far as Askinosie chocolate, who have literally taken chocolate making into their own hands.
Shawn Askinosie, the founder of Askinosie chocolate, was a criminal defense lawyer before he was called away to pursue a passion of chocolate. Learning everything he could about the process, he’s taken great steps to make sure his product is the best that it can be. Not only that, but his background has given him the gift of great social responsibility and has created a new way to work with the farmers whom he sources all his cocoa beans. Aside from traveling to the cocoa plantations to meet the workers and taste the beans himself, Shawn also pays above Fair Trade prices to his farmers so that they can focus on making better cocoa beans from more sustainable farming techniques and enjoy higher living standards.
Another amazing thing about Askinosie is that they are the only small batch chocolate maker in the United States to press their own cocoa butter. They use all natural cane sugar and also refuse to use additives in the chocolate as they feel it messed with the chocolate’s flavor and texture. This results in a very short shelf life of these bars which is about 6 months. Oh, and did I mention that the chocolate is also organic?
With all the fanfare in regard to the practices and processes of Askinosie, the big questions still remains: Does the chocolate taste good? I can give you a very enthusiastic “Yes”.
70% San Jose Del Tambo Dark Chocolate Bar: Very beautiful bar to look at. It has a great dark color with a gorgeous temper and gloss. The blocks are so cute, each sporting a letter of the “Askinoise” name. The aroma is intense: fresh, bright, red, fruity and very alive.
The flavor starts off mild with notes of cream, caramel, raisins and vanilla. The middle blossoms into a bright bouquet of fruits, berries, tart cherries and citrus which is pleasantly tart and pure tasting. That flavor lasts and has good staying power for a bit before fading into the finish like a brilliant sunset. The aftertaste has clean notes of cocoa and orange.
San Jose Del Tambo 34% white chocolate: There are many special things about this bar, but the main one is that it’s the first small batch white chocolate bar. Another special thin about this is that it’s a non deodorized white chocolate, which means the aromas in the cocoa butter aren’t removed. Other than El Rey’s Icoa white chocolate which is also non deodorized, this is the only type of white chocolate you can find on the market. It’s amazing to look at too, as the bar isn’t white at all; but a soft caramel, beige color. It doesn’t have much aroma, other than a slight fatty cocoa scent. the break is soft, the chocolate feels smooth and has a subtle gloss.
Right away it’s very sweet, and the flavor slowly comes out after a moment of melting on the tongue. It’s has a sweet, dairy-like musk to it (from the goat’s milk I’m guessing) that plays with the subtle notes of cocoa in the non deorodized butter. There’s light notes of caramel too and I’m reminded of dulche de la leche. The mouthfeel is very rich, with a thick texture that’s smooth but not slippery. The finish is light and sweet, and I admit I want more of it when it’s done.
75% Soconusco Dark Chocolate Nibble Bar: This bar uses the prized cocoa beans from the Soconusco valley in Mexico, where there are great pains are taken to collect these beans since it’s such a remote location. The bar is a deep rich brown and turing it over you can see the nibble bits are generously studded into the backside of the bar. It smells birght and roasted: notes of coffee, red berries, cinnamon, cutrus, and vanilla.
The flavor is beautiful and starts off with mild vanilla and nutty flavors that then bloom into citrus, cream and cocoa. Those flavor longer a moment, then fade when a slight acidic notes of berries and sweet red fruits leave a clean, fresh finish with no aftertaste. Along with all this you get a constant, light nuttieness from the nibs as they deliver a slight chewy texture which goes beautifully with the chocolate. The nibb’s texture is not too soft to get lost in the chocolate or too hard to compete with it. Lovely.
I cannot help but gush about the Askinosie chocolate. The chocolate is top-notch in terms of appearance, texture and flavor. Not only that, but the thoughtfulness of the practices of the company in regard how it processes the chocolate at the factory (they’re as green as possible) and the huge social commitment they make to the cocoa farmers where they course their beans makes this company one I want to support. With retail value $8-$10.50 per 85 g bar, this many not be an everyday indulgence, but it’s something I’ll happily pay for frequently. It’s something sweet for my taste buds and the planet.
Askinosie Chocolate Website
I love trying new chocolate, which I’m sure comes as no surprise at all. It’s really interesting for me to taste what each individual chocolate maker and chocolatier does with it. No two chocolates can taste the same, even if crafted by the same hand. It’s like a visit to an art museum, but for you taste buds.
Chocolove is one of the my favorite recent chocolate discoveries. I got my first taste of them at The New York Chocolate Show last November. I got to sample most of their line of chocolate bars and immediately fell in love with their Toffee & Almonds in 33% Milk Chocolate bar. Once you taste something utterly addictive, it’s only a matter of time until you go back for more. So the next trip to the store I found myself perusing the Chocolove selection and decided on trying the 65% Rich Dark chocolate, since I find bittersweet a good base for judging.
I love the red wrapper as it’s such an appealing color (not to mention my favorite). According to the front, you also get a love note along with the bar of chocolate, so I immediately think this would be a really cute gift for a special someone. The overall design is really cute, meant to look like a piece of mail sent especially to you.
Once the chocolate is free from the paper, you immediately notice the rich dark brown color and a gloss. The bar had a good hard snap to it and the break clean aside from a few pink prick sized air bubble holes. The molded domes of the chocolate have a little embossed curly heart on them and it’s really, really cute. The flavor is very mild and sweet with no notes of frutiness or acidity, which is common in darker chocolates. Instead I get a lot of roasted notes of coffee and cocoa, and accents of earthiness with coconut and some lingering vanilla. The mouthfeel is very rich, the chocolate is smooth and creamy and almost has a “thick” feeling on your tongue. It was especially nice a to savor this and let melt slowly in my mouth.
The Chocolove 65% Rich Dark is a really beautiful tasting bar and it’s been added to my list of chocolates I must have on hand at all times. The flavor and rich mouthfeel makes it feel really indulgent for times when I feel I need to treat myself. You know, so I can show myself some Chocolove!
Rating: Will Buy Again
Like most every American kid, I grew up on Hershey’s chocolate. It was the chocolate bar to have with its iconic wrapper and powerful sweetness. It was the only chocolate acceptable to make S’mores with. Despite how my tastes have changed since the days of my youth, Hershey’s chocolate is still ingrained deeply into my sweets psyche. It plays an important role as a basis for all the chocolate I’ll experience for the rest of my life, whether I like it or not.
Chocolate is a thriving business and there’s always a demand to somehow re-invent it to increase sales. That is essentially what Hershey’s is doing here with their new line of Bliss chocolates. Not only are they trying to grab attention with a new brand and re-packaged look but they’re also trying to compete with the Dove Chocolate line. This move of Hershey’s to try and make a “premium” chocolate line is interesting to me, especially after their stance on changing the definition of chocolate.
The new Bliss chocolate come in large bags with the little individually foil-wrapped squares inside, very similar to how the Kisses are packaged. Depending on where you shop, you can find other flavors in the line. I recall seeing a Raspberry flavor in Target last week. I was lucky and stumbled across these mini packets in my grocery store so I could sample just a few without much risk.
Milk Chocolate: Immediately very soft and sweet. It’s creamy, light milky and caramel notes to it. Thankfully it doesn’t come across as waxy to me at all.
Milk Chocolate Meltaway: The texture is noticeable “fudgier” than the other milk chocolate; it feels thicker and more slippery in the mouth. There isn’t a “center” per se, like in a Lindt Lindor. I got no shell/creamy center separation as the chocolate just overall seemed softer. There’s more caramel notes here and a salty touch, but other than that there’s not much else that appears different to me from the regular milk chocolate.
Dark Chocolate: Pretty flavorless and waxy. There’s light chocolately notes, but they have an odd muskiness about them that’s very off-putting. That problem was all fixed when I paired it with a cup of coffee.
Considering what is trying to be accomplished, it’s a decent attempt on Hershey’s behalf. It’s still far from good enough to get me to buy it over something much better, such as Droste, Chocolove or Michel Cluizel (just to name a few!). The funny thing with chocolate is it’s really such an individual thing, so even though it’s not my chocolate Bliss, it might be yours.
Rating: Not Worth It
Scharffen Berger is one of the few, if not the first, American chocolate company to work from “bean to bar”. What does that mean you may ask? To put it simply, it means that the company oversees the whole chocolate production: from sourcing the beans to the molding and wrapping the final bar. This level of control allows the chocolate makers to assure that the chocolate is made to their level of taste and satisfaction. The results are usually a fantastic bar of chocolate.
I’ve known of Scharffen Berger for a long time as I’d often seen it in gourmet stores and the shelves of my local Whole Foods. I always considered them too easily available for me to make an impromptu buy, but I’d knew it’d happen someday when I felt like trying something new (which is all the time, but you know what I mean). I saw this little tasting kit and I knew this would be a perfect way to try out Scarffen Berger’s selection, so into my cart it went.
41% Milk: It has a nice color and the aroma is extremely decadent: sweet with notes of cream, caramel and vanilla. It reminds me of ice cream. The flavor is lovely; chocolatey and creamy with neither flavor dominating over the other. Between the two big players there, there’s hints of the caramel and vanilla to give it that extra sweetness and depth. The mouth feel is extremely silky too, very luxurious. One of the better milk chocolates I’ve had to date.
70% Bittersweet: I love bittersweet, so this will be interesting. It has a strong medium brown color which is a little on the darker side. Smells of cocoa, coffee, and wood. The flavor is very earthy at first, with notes of vegetables, wood and fungi. Then a caramel like sweetness blossoms and mellows the flavor a little until the finish when the earthy notes return. It’s very reminiscent of the jungle where the cacao comes from.
82% Extra Dark: Sharp, dark color with reddish undertones. Smells very bright and fruity with subte notes of cherries and coffee. It’s a lovely aroma, which is also surprisingly pretty sweet smelling. The snap is really hard: loud and clean showing the good tempering of the chocolate. The flavor is very complex. It starts off with light cocoa flavors, then toward the middle bright sour notes of cherries and green coffee burst forward. Those flavors linger and a dry finish comes from under them and washes it all away in a cocoa like aftertaste. Beginners might be put off toward the bitterness, but I found the notes nicely controlled and flavorful. I enjoyed it.
This is nice to try so I could get an idea of what the range of the chocolate coming from Scharffen Berger. It’s a good step for beginners as it gives the opportunity taste the differences between the different cacao percentages. I liked how I know what to expect from them in the “mix in” bars and in their future products. A good chocolate that’s worth returning to every so often.
Rating: Will Eat Again
One of the new products that were announced at the All Candy Expo this year were a new line of “fancy” M&M’s. These M&M’s not only looked different, but they also come in an array of new flavors to appeal to more sophisticated palates. I eagerly awaited these beauties to show up in stores and when I finally say them in Target, I scooped up the three most appealing flavors (hey, they’re $3.99 apiece!) so I could give them a try.
These M&M’s Premiums are different in many ways, but the biggest difference for me is that they lack the candied shell of the originals. I find it really odd not having the shell there. The M&M’s feel like you’ve sucked on them already and have dissolved the shell, so all that hits your tongue is the smooth creamy milk chocolate. This is frustrating, since the shell kept the M&M from “dying” too quickly in my mouth and helped the taste and experience longer. That shell kept the delicious party raging on longer and I miss it.
The packages are cute, I give them that. They’re tall cardboard boxes that curve inward at the waist. They have a little window in the tummy area so you can see the M&M’s inside, all shiny and looking like twinkling treasure. Inside, the design gets even more intuitive. The M&M’s come in a re-sealable little plastic pouch, making it easy to take a little now and safely store the rest for later.
These have the bright blue speckled exterior and I’m reminded of sapphires. The almond is terribly fresh, with a good crunch and a strong nutty flavor. The chocolate is sweet and compliments the nut well. The only thing I wondered was were these worth paying more than the normal Almond M&M’s? I think the only difference is the exterior. My conclusion is no, since I’d rather have the shell and pay a little less.
These are purple and pink spattered and look very pretty. The “triple” comes from the fact they have milk, dark, and white chocolate layered in them. Their size is larger, similar to the size of the Razzberry and Cherry M&Ms.
These are incredibly creamy right off. Again, the lack of shell means you get an intense chocolate hit right away. It’s very sweet, milky and terribly smooth in texture. When bitten in half the cross section shows dark chocolate on top, a layer of white in the middle and the center is the milk. The chocolate is pleasant, as it’s really sweet and milky, with a slight caramel and coffee note in there. Other than that it isn’t any more complex than that (really, it’s an M&M, what do you expect?). Regardless, it’s very satisfying and tasty. I don’t really get a sense of all three chocolates but it’s a good blend that makes this richer than the regular M&M’s.
The fairest of them all in my humble opinion with their bronze, copper and golden colors. They’re the size of plain M&M’s and smell chocolatey with a hint of coffee. Good points right away, since I’m scared they wouldn’t taste very “mocha” like at all.
Like the Triple Chocolate, these are very creamy and have a good coffee flavor right away. It’s strong enough to stand out, but not drown out the chocolate flavor. Thankfully the M&M is not overly sweet and it really reminds me of the mocha you can get at the coffee shop. The coffee flavor is bold and slightly acidic, and tastes of a good brew and not just like there was some Folgers flavoring mixed in there. So if you’ve been looking for a good coffee flavored chocolate, this is worth a try.
The M&M’s Premiums are a fun little experiment. The new colors and flavors are attractive and fun, but with the higher price I don’t find them complex enough to keep me from buying more. I hope these do well since I am a fan of M&M’s, and I hope Mars would consider adding more flavors to the mix so something more unique would come along.
Rating: Will Eat Again